Jake Brunkard awarded the Vilas Early-Career Investigator Award

Congratulations to Jake Brunkard, Genetics Assistant Professor, on being awarded the Vilas Early-Career Investigator Award. The award recognizes research and teaching excellence in faculty who are in the early stages of their careers. Dr. Brunkard, who joined the Genetics Department in 2020, made a significant impact in the department in a short amount of time, both with his teaching and research efforts. The award will provide two years of support for a new graduate in the Brunkard laboratory.

Dr. Jake Brunkard

Dr. Brunkard’s research on plant growth may be a key to developing better crop yield and quality while reducing fertilizer demands, which is particularly important as food needs and environmental degradation increase worldwide.

His lab investigates plant responses to environmental conditions, including nutrients, focusing on how the Target of Rapamycin (TOR) pathway coordinates plant growth. Additionally, he is also analyzing specializations from the Proteaceae family, which allows them to thrive in phosphorous-deficient soils, which may help alleviate concerns about future phosphorous needs for food production and phosphorous-derived environmental pollution.

As an instructor, Dr. Brunkard carries a teaching load above departmental expectations. Besides teaching parts of Genetics 701/702 and Genetics 631, Dr. Brunkard created a new grant-writing summer course for 1st-year Genetics Ph.D. students, Genetics 993. The course leads to the submission of applications for NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, and by the second summer teaching the course, five of the ten graduate students taking the course received NSF awards. That is a remarkable 50% award rate, well above previous success rates in our department (5%) and nationwide averages (12.5 % – 16.5 %).

Dr. Brunkard serves in the Graduate Program Steering and Admissions Committees and as an ad hoc member in other committees in the Genetics department and campus. He is also the chair of the Genetics Retreat Committee, which he revitalized and now includes plenary speakers on topics of societal relevance, such as how learning about complex genetics concepts or the natural history of humans helps prevent discrimination and bias.

Dr. Brunkard is also highly committed to the inclusion of underrepresented populations in STEM and actively participates in activities that promote diversity and inclusion in our department and graduate program. At a national level, his activities to promote diversity and inclusion have led to his being awarded the Presidential Membership from the Genetics Society of America. In Wisconsin, Dr. Brunkard works with his mentees to develop multiple outreach programs addressing topics such as domestication, plant development, pollinators, genetic response to the environment, and evidence-based policymaking.